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by Michael Sansolo

All of us make mistakes; that’s just a fact of life.

Where things get interesting is when those who work for us make mistakes and we react. The choices are many. We can use mistakes as a moment to teach about growth, trust and responsibility or we can fixate on the mistake itself and end up micro managing.

Sadly, we all choose the wrong path far too often, which leads in turn to underlings who become increasingly aware of missteps, risk averse and demotivated. And it leads to managers who spend all their time watching someone else’s work. Talk about lose-lose.

The notion of how to cope with mistakes got some primetime space during the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament and it’s a lesson many of us might need to take to heart.

It starts with applauding for mistakes.

Jim Larranaga, coach of the University of Miami basketball team, said he got a powerful lesson in positive coaching nearly 17 years ago, when he was at George Mason University. In a recent interview in the Washington Post, Larranaga said the notion of clapping for mistakes came courtesy of Bob Rotella, a noted sports psychologist.

Like many of us, Larranaga was skeptical at first, saying, “What the heck do you mean by that.” But Rotella’s point is as relevant to a department manager as it is to a basketball coach and it focuses both on training and getting over mistakes.

In sports, Rotella said, the teaching comes in practice. “Once the game begins you have to trust (your players.) If there’s a mistake, clap for them and let them put it out of their mind. You don’t want to dwell on mistakes.”

Now think of that in your office, store, warehouse or wherever you work. To borrow Rotella’s point, training is paramount and should never be given short shrift. Associates in any job need to understand what is expected of them and need to tools to succeed. If fact, countless studies make it very clear that poor training or the lack or necessary tools are very often the prime reason staffers quit.

Micro-managers are high on that list. too.

To avoid micro managing we need to heed Rotella’s advice and stop dwelling on mistakes. Yes, they happen and associates need to understand what they have done wrong, especially if they are repeat offenders. But associates, like athletes, will dwell on the mistakes if that’s all the feedback they get, which will make them more tentative and less useful to the team.

The basketball metaphor is obvious. While Larranaga might clap for mistakes, there’s no doubt he’ll quickly substitute for a player repeatedly making the same error. But while that player is on the court, he wants them focused on the next pass or shot, not the one they just messed up. That’s how the team moves on and hopefully wins.

Stew Leonard Sr. used to say that the difference between a pat and the back and a kick in the pants is just a few inches, but the results they produce are amazingly different.

Every mistake provides a teachable moment, the key question for managers is exactly what lesson are you giving?

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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